With the Olympic break just weeks away, it may have come as a surprise that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Richard Panik was loaned to the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch.
Panik will be representing his native country Slovakia in Sochi, Russia, so there would not be an opportunity for him to get extra playing time in the minors like the Bolts did wth rookie defenseman Andrej Sustr.
Richard Panik was reassigned to Syracuse of the AHL on Friday
Yet the days leading up to the Games is an opportunity for Panik to get back into a lineup in a full-time role.
"Instead of sitting in the stands for the next week, 'why not go to Syracuse and play the power play, penalty kill and 5-on-5 and get your mojo back?'" Cooper said. "This is a situation where we need to get him game time and this is by no means a permanent thing."
Steven Stamkos also stands as the only non-long term injured player. As he steadily continues to progress, Cooper said the Lightning cannot have everybody sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch. This made Panik the "free send down."
"He's the one guy who can go down and play there," Cooper said.
Naturally upset with the decision, Cooper said the most important part was reassuring Panik that, just like Sustr, he is a part of Tampa Bay's long term plan.
"The difference is that these guys are a big part of our future," Cooper said. "Once you get a taste of it you clearly want to be a part of this. It stings in the beginning, but you have to send the message they're a part of this."
The Bolts' head coach said once Panik is amidst a game with the Crunch, his disappointment will subside and that is an important step moving forward.
"Playing in that league is what got them in this league," he said. "They just need to keep doing that and they're a big part of this organization moving forward."